Mr. Mayor, Don’t Tear Down This Barn

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Fixing the Miller Red Barn at Christmas Hill Park means different things to different people.
If you talk to building and fire officials or with the City of Gilroy, fixing the barn means bringing the structure up to building codes for public use. This would require improvements to comply with the American with Disabilities Act. To the city, it also means creating meeting and event rooms, restrooms, a kitchen and offices.
In light of all that, one might ask, why put all that money into a rickety old barn? Forget it! Might as well build a new one. And that is the city’s plan.
But there is a problem—that new building isn’t scheduled to be built until after 2050 and only if the city has the projected $3.5 million (in current dollars) it will cost to build a new community center, which they don’t.
To those of us who see the barn’s value as an irreplaceable monument to our agricultural history and a symbol of our cultural and ethnic heritage, fixing the barn means stabilizing and then strengthening the existing building to acceptable levels so it can be used. This doesn’t have to happen overnight; the work can be done and paid for incrementally over time.
Barns are extremely adaptable structures and are easily modified for alternative uses. New uses for the barn could be centered on agriculture and environment related programs with rotating exhibits, classes and demonstrations. Or, it could simply be used to house animals and be just what it was built to be, a barn. Events like concerts, theater, quilt shows, re-skilling seminars where you can learn how to shoe a horse, can your own vegetables or fruit or spinning yarn could be held outside the Barn. The possibilities are unlimited.
Can the barn be fixed? Sure. You can fix anything. All you need is money and time. But why bother at all? Bothering is the difference between looking at a new building and saying, “Oh, isn’t this nice?” and walking through the barn door and saying, “Oh, wow!
The one-year reprieve that the city council gave to the Save the Red Barn Committee to repurpose and fund improvements to the barn is just about up. During the last year the committee has raised public awareness of this important historic asset and has learned much about the barn’s history and its namesake, Henry Miller. Much of this new information remains unknown to the vast majority of Gilroyan’s or even the city.
More importantly, the committee has successfully raised donations in the five-figure range, even without a firm commitment on the part of the city council to reverse its already approved plan to tear down an historic barn that belongs to all the people of Gilroy.
Obviously more money will have to be raised to first stabilize the barn and then bring it up to an acceptable standard for minimal public use. In order to raise the money to make this happen, the city council should make a commitment to remove the dark shadow of demolition. No grantor or donor is going to provide funds for a project that might end up with a demolition order being carried out at any time in the foreseeable future.
Gary Walton is a Gilroy businessman and a founding member of the Save The Red Barn Committee. He wrote this piece for the Dispatch.

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